CEDAR RAPIDS — U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley doesn’t expect much progress on cutting the federal deficit this election year.
“It’s very hard to see a way forward in this environment,” Braley told The Gazette Editorial Board on Wednesday.
It’s not impossible, though: Braley cited his experience last spring with four town hall meetings organized with help from the non-partisan Concord Coalition anti-deficit group. The events in Davenport, Dubuque, Cedar Falls and Fayette included a brief orientation followed by constituents’ votes on specific program cuts and tax increases.
“Each group found trillions of dollars of deficit reduction, and each group did it with a balanced approach of targeted spending cuts and revenue increases, which is what most economists tell you we have to do,” Braley said.
Braley said fellow Democrats were “blown away” by video of the exercise, which some have since duplicated.
“There should be no reason why Congress can’t do the same thing, but it’s just an incredibly difficult environment when ‘compromise’ is seen as a dirty word,” he said.
Braley said he’d like to include deficit-fighting elements in his efforts to keep college education affordable. He recently introduced legislation to lock in a 3.4 percent student loan interest rate for another five years — it would jump to 7 percent if Congress doesn’t act by July 1 — but he’d like to see loan eligibility tied to graduation and placement rates, especially in the case of for-profit institutions.
“We have to continue to challenge the institutions that receive these funds to demonstrate the value they return,” said Braley, a member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. “When we have money going to a program that has high default rates and students not completing their academic programs, that takes money away from students here in Iowa.”
Braley thinks Cedar Rapids stands a good chance of landing the flood-recovery funding it’s seeking from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, in part simply because others are seeking similar aid.
“The Hurricane Katrina disaster is the relief event that refuses to die,” he said. “Every time somebody else gets impacted, there are still requests coming up for unmet needs from that event.”
Braley said he called FEMA Director Craig Fugate just last week, “trying to make sure they are living up to the commitments they made.”
Linn County voters’ approval of a proposed local-option sales tax extension March 6 would have little direct effect on the city’s case in Congress, but it couldn’t hurt, Braley said.
“The federal program guidelines are fairly clear in terms of what’s considered” for funding, Braley said. “I’m not sure what the significance of that vote will mean to ongoing efforts to provide funding that should have been provided previously, but it certainly could be another factor in the city’s appeal.”
The third-term Democrat from Waterloo said he hasn’t thought much about his challengers in the new 1st District. Two Republicans, Independence attorney Ben Lange and Dubuque businessman Rod Blum, have announced bids.
“I am going to have no impact whatsoever on who the Republicans choose,” he said. “There’s plenty of time to worry about politics later.”